Am I Living In A Box?

 In Ākāśa Values
Photo by Greta Rossi

This morning I found myself staring at a cardboard box. For some reason – perhaps the fact that I was ‘working from home’ – I felt content to just look at its eight corners and its overall structure; meditation perhaps, procrastination more likely!  Everyday objects such as cardboard boxes can be fascinating if one has the time, and the space, to do absolutely nothing but just look at them; they have a story to tell but these stories will only be revealed to us if we take the time to hear them.

The box was telling me the story of its ‘purpose – it’s raison d’être: i.e. to contain, to keep some things in and other things out. Simple but profound. If we think about the history of the cardboard box, we discover a tale of exploration, adventure, war, love, hope, romance, colonial expansion, globalisation – the list goes on. The bit of the story I am particularly interested in concerns the human species: why have we reached a point in our evolution where boxes have become our downfall? Well, not boxes per se, but our desire to spend so much time in them as a means to escape what is outside.

We spend the majority of our times in boxes. We sleep in boxes called bedrooms; we cook in boxes called kitchens; we defecate in boxes called WCs; we wash ourselves in boxes called bathrooms; and many of us travel to work in motorised boxes called buses, cars and trains. Then from these motorised boxes we move into boxes called offices where we may spend up to nine hours – perhaps considerably more – staring into boxes called computers. If we are lucky, we may get a breath of fresh air as we travel between boxes.

So, what is wrong with boxes?

We need boxes because they protect us. Yet, this desire to seek security in boxes has resulted in a separation between humans and nature. The more time we spend in our boxes trying to protect ourselves from the real, and perceived, vagaries of ‘brutish’ nature, the less we are able, or willing, to connect with the biophysical systems and processes that make life on Earth possible. Our separation from nature is at the root of many of the crises we currently face as a species.

Human beings tend to be risk-averse and enjoy the protection offered by walls and roofs. Other animals also like protection so build nests, lairs and burrows; but their homes are very much part of nature, not separate from it. Unlike these animals, modern urbanised humans like to distance themselves from nature and spend most of their time ‘containerised’; building barriers between themselves and the ‘dirt’ of the world around them. So environmental degradation can be easily forgotten when surrounded and protected by walls. Our sightlines are constrained by walls and windows. Windows provide only the briefest glimpse of the world outside and are frequently positioned in such a way as to offer us ‘the best view’; when the view is unpleasant, we can use blinds or curtains to obscure it.

By containerising our lives we are able to ignore what we would prefer not to see or hear. The house represents our means to hide away from the world and the problems that lie outside the front, or the back, door. We are also able to shape our boxes to create the environment of our choice whilst forgetting the environment we are destroying outside. When did you walk into a house to discover canisters of toxic or radioactive waste, massacred houseplants, dead animals and a cocktail of sulphurous fumes? It is rather odd how we create peaceful homes, beautiful places in which to reside yet we are prepared to see our external environment pillaged, polluted and ravaged.

As the external environment gets uglier, we spend less and less time communing with nature; after all, why would we want to spend time wandering around grimy streets, feeding mangy pigeons or aggressive squirrels, when we can curl up on the sofa in front of the ultimate box – the TV? As we distance ourselves from nature, we try to compensate for this loss by adorning our walls with pictures depicting rural idylls or scenes of the last great wildernesses. We also choose to consume lots of ‘stuff’ in the hope that the act of consumption will somehow relieve the collective depression and angst that is a direct result of our destructive lifestyles.

If we could somehow grasp the fact that we have lost touch with nature, through our attachment to our boxes, then we would be one step closer to solving the environmental crisis, and, importantly, to a new spiritual awakening that has love of nature at its heart. Rather than rejecting the protection afforded by our dwellings, we should see our protection as dependent upon nature.

We protect our own homes yet we refuse to protect our shared home – the environment. Perhaps if we could see the environment as the ultimate box, then we would overcome the first hurdle on our journey towards creating a truly sustainable future. It is no coincidence that the prefix ‘eco’ derives from the Greek word oikos, meaning ‘house’ or ‘dwelling place’.

Mike Edwards


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